Friday, December 30, 2016

THE FLY-OVER Chapter 2 by Peter Nolan Smith


“We have nothing like this in England.” Brock shot the passing landscape with his movie camera. The river spread across the Mississippi’s broad flood plain. Farm houses seemed to float on the Mississippi like Huck Finn's raft.

"Is this going to be in your film?" I hadn't asked too many questions about his Barry Flanagan project.

"You never know what will mean something in a film." Brock was a one-man crew. Two, if I was counted as a driver. He stopped shooting. "But this film is for Barry. Imagine yourself trapped in a failing body. You'd want to see all this, wouldn't you?"

"And more." Every mile in the Fly-Over was new to me.

We traveled US 54 to Vandalia, then turned northwest to Paris on US 25. The rental Ford hit 80 on the straightaways. The V6 could go faster given the right conditions.

"Aren't you scared of police?" Brock aimed the camera at me.

"They're out on the Interstates revenue hunting." I hadn't seen a cop car since the Highway Patrol cruiser in St. Louis stopped me for speeding. "Remember this is the deep Flyover. No one from not here come here, except anyone who lives here, but it's not a wasteland."

Miles and miles of newly plowed dirt fields were soothing to my eyes after a gray winter in New York.

"How do people live out here?" Brock Brock put down his camera, as we passed an abandoned junkyard. Both of us were hungry. US 24 offered little in the way of eateries, so we were holding off for ribs in KC.


"I feel like we're in COLD BLOOD." Brock had chosen Truman Capote's opus about two drifters murdering a Kansas farmer as his travel book.

"Not much has changed out here since then." Mine was ON THE ROAD, but I had yet to open Kerouac's homage to the road.

"The last time I came through the Midwest was in 1994 in a Studebaker Hawk."

"That's why I wanted you with me. You're American."

I pressed PLAY for Arthur Lee and Love's IF 6 WAS 9 and my foot hit the gas.

The Ford was all go.

It hit 90.

Fifty miles out of KC rain sploshed off the four-laner. THE WIZARD OF OZ belonged to Kansas. The sky was black.

"Stormy weather." It scared Brock.

"Nothing to worry about." I kept the Ford under 50.

Twenty minutes later the rain stopped and the sun broke through the clouds. Kansas City rested on a hill. A golden nimbus transform the city into Oz.

"I love America." Brock filmed two minutes of our approach.

I doubted any of it would be in his film.

"My friend, Joe, ran away to Kansas City in 1965. He was 13 and wanted to see if there were any pretty girls there."

"As Wilbert Harrison sang in the song."

"He found none and the cops sent him back to Boston."

"But he got here and here is a long way away from there."

"And that's the truth."

Downtown Kansas City mimicked St. Louis purgatory and we booked a room in Kansas not far from the house of my old friend from the South Shore, Ray Santo. The South Shore native was free tonight and we met for ribs. Brock and I got sloppy. Ray stayed clean.

"I have to play later." Ray was a drummer in the KC scene.

"We're coming with you." Brock ordered another round. The three of us left the restaurant in a taxi. Kansas City police actively sought out drunk drivers.

"But not drunks." Ray gave the driver directions.

"Not yet." I muttered, because Kansas was next to Oklahoma and that state didn't believe in curves, unless they were connected to a tornado.

Five minutes after we arrived at the crowded nightclub, Ray hit the stage. The band performed a tight set of country-western music. Brock yee-hahed during a break.

"How do you know Ray?"

"He went out with my sister." Ray had a Corvette. He played good hockey and shoot better pool. My mother didn't approve of his dating my younger sister. "Back in 1970."

"That's almost thirty years ago."

"Yep." I hadn't seen Ray in too long. I yee-hahed and Brock joined me.

Drinking beer in Kansas was good and listening to music was even better.

We were all friends for life.

After coffee and donuts at the motel I drove us to Overland Park. Flanagan's Hare statue was in the middle of the Johnson County Community College campus.

Guns were not allowed on campus.

A uniformed guard gave us a pass. Our parking space was reserved for 'visitors'. The art director met us on the walkway.

"NOt many people around," said Brock.

"School's not in session. It's Spring Break."

JCCC offered its student body of 37,000 the chance of changing lives through learning. It was a big school.

"That's fine. We're here to see the Hare." Brock broke out his equipment and we entered the interior quadranlge of Administration Building.

"Well, here it is." The director stood before the 11-foot statue of a Hare on a Bell. I liked the one in St. Louis better. It was very Nijinsky.

Brock asked our host about the Hare. I made myself scarce during the interview. I liked to know nothing and pulled out my cellphone to call New York.

No one answered, so I visited the Nerman Museum attached to JCCC. The sky threatened rain and the clouds weren't telling any lies.

An hour later Brock ran to the Ford in a downpour. He carried the camera bag under his coat. I was listening to Dave Van Ronk's BOTH SIDES NOW and I turned down the volume, as the Scot sat in the car. Rain dripped off his hat and he wiped his face with a towel. "That was great. I interviewed seven people. They really understand the Hare."

"So they don't think it's a rabbit?"

"They think it's something much more."

"Like what?"

"Freedom and wildness."

"And those are good things."

"Always for us. so now what now?"

"North to Iowa."

"On the highway?" Brock was a little concerned about his schedule.

"Not a chance." I pulled out of the parking lot certain no one had said 'North to Iowa' in this century and more importantly I was glad to have heard it at least once in my lifetime.

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